Sexedgendered relations unnatural identities

As a mode of inquiry, ecofeminism is beset by two difficulties: first, to persuade feminists that their position requires them to embrace ecofeminism; and, second, to persuade ecologists, especially deep ecolo-gists, that gender-blind analyses are insufficiently radical.

In philosophical ecofeminism, several essays by Karen J. Warren are treated as of central importance. With these I shall begin. Although Warren notes that there is little agreement on the 'important connections

6. In making this point, I am indicating a preference for social ecofeminism over against affinity or cultural ecofeminism. I shall return to this point in the next section.

7. Stephan Elkins, 'The Politics of Mystical Ecology', Telos 82 (1989-90), 52-70.

8. In what follows I shall continue to use the term, ecofeminism. However, I share the reservations of both Janet Biehl and Mary Mellor that this term has come to be associated with affinity or cultural ecofeminism. Biehl, Finding our Way, refuses the term; Mellor, Feminism andEcology, prefers 'green feminism'.

between the oppression of women and the oppression of nature', she argues that ecofeminism unites around the following four claims:

(i) there are important connections between the oppression of women and the oppression of nature; (ii) understanding the nature of these connections is necessary to any adequate understanding of the oppression of women and the oppression of nature; (iii) feminist theory and practice must include an ecological perspective; and (iv) solutions to ecological problems must include a feminist perspective.9

How are the connections between these double oppressions to be understood.? The key insight is the 'logic of domination' that ecofeminism exposes: such a logic ascribes value to the 'upper' part of dualisms and denies value to the 'lower' part. Thus it is not the division between 'upper' and lower' to which ecofeminism objects: distinctions of this kind could be an affirmation of diversity. Instead, that those on the lower side are understood to be inferior and subordinate is the outcome of the logic of domination. In a later essay, Warren reproduces this analysis: the logic of domination is 'explanatorily basic', for it is by such logic that the hierarchies and dualisms are employed as the basis for subordination and domination.10 Warren's argument, although schematic, is valuable in two ways: first, hierarchies themselves are not dismissed but only those hierarchies incorporated within a logic of domination; second, her account leaves open the significance of the patriarchal identification of women with nature and men with the 'human', culture and reason.11

For, as already intimated, there is no agreement in ecofeminism as to the status of the relation between women and nature.12 There is agreement that the connection between women and nature has been used to place women on the 'down' or inferior side. However, there is less agreement on the way forward: is the connection between women and nature true but instead in need of a positive valuation? Is it then correct to say that women

9. Karen J. Warren, 'Feminism and Ecology: Making Connections,' EnvironmentalEthics 9:1 (1987), 3-20 (4-5).

10. Karen J. Warren, 'The Power and Promise of Ecological Feminism', EnvironmentalEthics 12:2 (1990), 125-46 (126-32).

11. Already answered therefore is Scharper's question to dualisms in ecofeminist theory, see

Redeeming the Time, pp. 163-4.

12. Roughly speaking, the types of ecofeminism correspond to the types of feminism: liberal, socialist, cultural affinity. That, anyhow, is the way that ecofeminism is usually presented: see Merchant, Radical Ecology pp. 183-97, who also discusses a fourth type, dubbed social ecofeminism; Karen J. Warren, 'Introduction' to section on Ecofeminism, in Michael E. Zimmerman (ed.), Environmental Philosophy:From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1993), pp. 253-67.

are 'closer' to nature and thereby have access to important knowledge towards the healing of ecological relations.? Or should ecofeminists be concerned to emancipate women from the association with nature. (Such a move has been common in the politics of nature: as part of a sustained attempt to affirm their full humanity, note Keith Thomas and Ynestra King, emancipation movements have often been concerned to accentuate the difference between themselves and non-human animals.13) Or, is the matter, as Val Plumwood suggests, not to be treated merely in terms of either straight reversal or denial?14

Finally, as must be clear by now, I think the ecofeminist case is best supported within the theological context offered by the common realm of nature, humanity and God; more on this point in the final section. For the moment, however, I want to note that the style of ecofeminist theory being attended to here is supported by the interpretative interests of the work of women under present patriarchal conditions rather than any 'natural affinity' women may have with 'nature'. Until now, the cultural or affinity tendency has perhaps been the dominant voice in ecofeminism.15 Characterising affinity or cultural ecofeminism, Mary Mellor writes that such ecofeminism: 'tends to combine a celebration of women-centred values (mothering, nurturing, caring) with a celebration of women's bodies' and understands the difference between women and men in either biological or cosmological terms.16

Such a location of difference is not accepted throughout ecofeminism. Mellor characterises responses by radical or social/ist types of ecofeminism to spiritual ecofeminism in the following way: 'Divisions between men and women are not seen either as biologically based or accidents of historical development, but as representing distinct material interests.

13. Thomas, Man and the Natural World, pp. 48f.; Ynestra King, 'The Ecology of Feminism and the Feminism of Ecology,' in J. Plant (ed.), Healing the Wounds:The Promise ofEcofeminism (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1989), pp. 18-28 (pp. 22-3).

14. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, pp. 3if.

15. Two important anthologies - Plant (ed.), Healing the Wounds, and Irene Diamond and Gloria Feman Orenstein (eds.), Reweaving the World: the Emergence ofEcofeminism (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990) - feature the cultural voice strongly.

16. Mellor, Feminism andEcology, p. 56. Mellor distinguishes between strong and weak tendencies in cultural ecofeminism: 'Affinity ecofeminism offers a strong and a weak version of the relationship between women and nature, affinity and difference. The first is to assert a strong version of both affinity and difference. This would claim a fundamental difference between men and women based on biology and/or cosmological forces that are irreconcilable (immanent goddess versus patriarchal god) and a direct biological or cosmological link between women and nature. A weaker emphasis on both affinity and difference would see differences between men and women as based on biological and/or cosmological differences that are complementary, and therefore reconcilable, as in the Taoist concept of yin and yang' (p. 57).

Social change will not come from spiritual rebirth, the weaving of dreams or spells or the re-emergence of the "female" as body or spirit, but from active political struggle against the structures and institutions ofcurrent society.'17 I share these objections to affinity ecofeminism and what follows will draw on the social/ist forms of ecofeminism.18

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Positive Thinking As The Key To Success

Positive Thinking As The Key To Success

Download this Guide and Discover How To Find And Monetize on Your Expertise And Strengths. Inside this special report, you'll discover: How positive thinking is one of the key factors in a successful life. Five ways and tools to help you stay positive. Use these to help you keep on track. Case studies that'll inspire you to stick to your dreams. Plus much, much more.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment